Kuldeep Yadav benefits from ‘dream come true’ meeting with Shane Warne to spin out Australia

Young India Chinaman bowler, who once dreamed of playing as a paceman, makes sensational Test debut in Dharamshala and has an Australian to partly thank for that, writes Dileep Premachandran.

India's Kuldeep Yadav, centre, celebrates the wicket of Australia batsman Glenn Maxwell at Dharamshala on Saturday. Prakash Singh / AFP
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Day 1

Australia (1st innings) 300

Smith 111, Wade 57; Kuldeep 4-68

India (1st innings) 0-0

You could not beat the irony.

In Dharamshala, a ‘Chinaman’ bowler – the politically incorrect term for the left-arm leg-spinner, after Trinidad’s Ellis Achong, who first tossed up such a delivery in the 1930s – making his debut gave India the advantage in the fourth and final Test against Australia.

Kuldeep Yadav’s four for 68 on an excellent surface triggered an extraordinary Australian collapse from 144 for one to 300 all out.

Steve Smith, who scored 111, his seventh hundred against India and 20th in all, will not appreciate the fact that it was an Australian that had given Kuldeep precious inputs ahead of his first game. In Pune, during the first Test, Shane Warne had been on the TV commentary roster. When Anil Kumble, India’s coach, found out that he was Kuldeep’s childhood hero, he arranged a meeting.

When the first wicket came, with David Warner miscuing a cut to slip, it was not with the Chinaman, but the flipper, a delivery that Warne was famed for. “Learning from Shane Warne and then getting his countryman out was great,” Kuldeep said after the day’s play, grin plastered across his face.

Kuldeep is now 22, and Sunil Gavaskar was one of those that had advocated taking him to Australia in 2014/15 as a wild card. That did not happen, with Karn Sharma the surprise pick, but he has been marked out for big things since playing a part in the India Under 19 World Cup campaign in 2014.

At every opportunity during this series, Kumble had spent time with Kuldeep in the nets, working on both accuracy and variations. There was the temptation to play him in Bangalore, but it is doubtful that he would have got this opportunity but for Virat Kohli failing to recover from the shoulder injury he sustained in Ranchi.

The Kuldeep story, as has been the case with many other cricketers from Uttar Pradesh, starts at a sports hostel in Lucknow, the state capital. The living conditions are fairly primitive, the regimen hard, and the competition to get ahead incredibly fierce. The 11-year-old Kuldeep did not fancy it, and went back home to Kanpur.

His father has a brick-kiln business there, and while the family was supportive, it was Kapil Pandey, the coach at the academy he enrolled in, that was the main influence. Kuldeep aspired to a fast bowler in the Wasim Akram mould, but once it became clear that he would never be very tall, Pandey swiftly disabused him of such notions and asked him to switch to spin.

Kuldeep stayed home, sulked and wailed for a couple of days, and then went back. He says the Chinaman bowling came naturally, especially once he tried to become a mirror image of Warne.

Like the great Australian, Kuldeep is not afraid of getting hit. He will not spear the ball in to try and avoid that. And in Dharamshala, after India got off to a nightmare start, he showcased all his wares.

Warner was done like a kipper by one that bounced far more than he expected.

A Chinaman that drifted away from him before turning sharply in bowled Peter Handscomb, and Glenn Maxwell was flummoxed by the wrong-un, which pitched on leg and took off stump. Pat Cummins went the Handscomb way, chipping back a return catch after failing to gauge flight or drift.

“He’s a left-arm Chinaman bowler who is not afraid to toss the ball up,” R Sridhar, India’s fielding coach told Wisden India a couple of years ago when his prodigious talent had just caught influential eyes. “He’s got the heart of a soldier and he likes a challenge. He’s a slow bowler, but he’s aggressive in terms of his mindset, and he’s got great variations.”

Kuldeep called meeting Warne a “dream come true”, and spoke of another session in the near future. Warne’s compatriots, who will now have to bowl out of their skins to keep India at bay, will not be amused.

Aizawl Football Club will seek fairytale ending in Leicester City mould

Robert Royte, the politician and man about town who owns Aizawl Football Club, turned 50 on January 29.

If his team can somehow hold on to their three-point lead atop the I-League table, it will be the best belated birthday present ever. The road ahead is certainly not easy, with away games against Bengaluru FC, the outgoing champions, and Churchill Brothers, the Goan side that have enjoyed something of a resurgence.

Then there is a potential title decider against Kolkata’s mighty Mohun Bagan, seven points adrift but with two games in hand. If it comes down to that, the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl, the capital of the tiny northeastern state of Mizoram, will again be sold out, as it has been for every match in the past five seasons.

For the Mizo people, the football team has become the focal point of their aspirations. Aizawl has a population of just under 300,000. Kolkata’s is closer to 15 million, and Bangalore’s fast approaching nine. David against Goliaths does not even begin to describe it.

Like Leicester City in England last season, Aizawl have made their ascent with a manager who was dismissed from his previous job. Khalid Jamil’s time with Mumbai FC was both controversial and unsuccessful. Now, with Mumbai rooted to the bottom of the table and almost certain to be relegated, he has proved his point in the most forceful way.

Aizawl have defended stoutly, conceding just 11 goals, and nearly a third of their 19 goals have come on the counter-attack. They have also specialised in late goals, sneaking off with the points even in matches where they were outplayed. In that context, their last game, a 2-2 draw with Minerva Punjab FC, was a surprise result, as they squandered a two-goal lead with half an hour to play.

With things so tight at the top – East Bengal, Bagan’s great rivals, are just three points behind Aizawl – that sort of slip could well cost the underdogs the title. But as they resume their campaign in April after a couple of weeks off, every neutral will be in their corner.

Royte may have invested a lot of his money, but the wage bill of just over Rs30 million (Dh1.68m) is the second smallest in the league. Bengaluru’s is 10 times that. Leicester was not exactly an unknown city – certainly not to Indians – before the football team’s successful season.

And while winning the I-League does not quite compare, it might at least force a few to look up a map and figure out exactly where Aizawl is.

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